January 4, 2009

Habitat for Humanity houses -- 8 years old and alive with "cockroaches, mildew and mysterious skin rashes."

Jimmy Carter was one of the 10,000 volunteers who built the Fairway Oaks housing development in 17 days. Now, there's a lawsuit, but it doesn't seem to be based on the shoddy workmanship of amateurs. It seems to be mainly about the site — a garbage dump:
One man pulled up his floorboards to find rubbish 5ft deep under his kitchen. Other complaints include cracking walls and rotting door frames that let in rats and ants.
Habitat must have a system that limits and supervises all those volunteers. It's too easy to laugh at the do-gooders. Even when you use professional builders, you can have problems like rotting door wood, especially in a wet climate. You have to take care of your house, and even when you try, you do periodically find things that have gone bad, and it's your responsibility to make repairs. But once you decide to sue about one thing — here, the site — the lawsuit becomes a grab bag of all your complaints.

Which side should Michelle Malkin be on?
All Jimmy Carter-bashing and schadenfreude aside, do the residents have a bona fide case or are these professional moochers trying to pin blame on others for their own lack of personal responsibility?...

I’ve watched enough of these “environmental justice” activists to know that they coach their clients to complain about vague ailments (“mysterious skin rashes”) that have no relation in reality to the environmental conditions they claim are the cause. These professional grievance-mongers have blocked countless private redevelopment and remediation projects — and milked tens of millions in settlements — based on bogus scientific and medical claims....

The Left has stoked both eco-zealotry and the entitlement culture with impunity. Perhaps they’ll feel a little less inclined to feed those beasts after getting bitten squarely in the ass.

28 comments:

Horace said...

The down-the-road for these houses was always going to be shitty, and you know why: You can't give someone a free house and reasonably expect him not to treat it like a free house.

Chris Wren said...

"Mysterious skin rashes" were a common complaint in Vancouver following the first round of shoddy condos built in the 80s and 90s, along with bronchial infections. They were the result of various forms of mold growing as thick as pudding between the walls of homes built with substandard materials. Thousands of people lost their homes and their shirts, unable to afford the costs of almost total reconstruction.

Much as Malkin obviously relishes the opportunity to pounce on whiny poor people and as implicitly satisfied as you are with her interpretation (why else would you have chosen to repost that particular passage by that particular columnist) I'm tempted to give their complaints a little more credence. Shoddily constructed homes really can make people seriously ill.

Michael_H said...

I'm posting this comment from my perspective as a home builder.

Habitat for Humanity homes built with the proper inspections from local building inspectors should comply with all applicable building codes, which will in most cases result in a decent, livable home.

Mold is a result of moisture problems. Some of these may be the result of leaks, some may be the result of the owners not properly ventilating and dehumidifying the house to control humidity levels. Leaks can be found and repaired.

Mold is not unusual, and can be cleaned up with soap and water, just like when it occurs in a shower.

What is troubling is the report of someone lifting floorboards and seeing trash. A house should be built on a clean foundation or crawlspace. Since H for H owners are required to work on their own homes,I can't understand why the owner would not have seen trash while the home was being built.

Thee are some 'consultants' that advise gullible homeowners that they can reap large awards by suing over the presence of mold in a their homes. A few large awards were made years back, but that trend as sharply abated.

Regardless, building codes now emphasize energy efficiency, and require construction of a very tight home that requires constant mechanical ventilation and dehumidification in order to control interior moisture. The owners should have been educated by H for H on this topic as part of their pre-occupancy training.

Expat(ish) said...

My wife has done several "woman builds" for H4H over the last few years. In each case she's been impressed by the homeowners and the screening and training they've gone through.

And trust me, she can be fairly critical when the mood takes her. :-)

Will some bad apples slip through? I have no doubt. Could H4H have missed a while community? Seems unlikely.

One of the houses she helped build was supervised by a professional custom home builder. When I said I was surprised that unskilled people could build a house in just a few days she said that anyone with average coordination could be supervised to do any part of home building. I guess that doesn't surprise me, but it does make it seem unlikely that a whole community of homes would be messed up.

-XC

TitusReachForTheStars said...

Pinching a Sunday Loaf is a time honored tradition that includes the newspaper.

It is an opportunity to really savior the loaf. Take your time. Relax. You don't need to be at work. Enjoy your Sunday loaf. Maybe even stay a little longer on the throne to finish that interesting article-even though the loaf is finished. Perhaps even take a call. Respond to some email messages on your blackberry.
Do some light dusting around the bathroom as you are pinching the loaf. Be creative. Use you time wisely and multi=task.

TitusReachForTheStars said...

Cut your fingernails while pinching your loaf. Pluck your eyebrows while pinching your loaf. Apply a masque while pinching your loaf. Floss, brush teeth, apply deodorant, have breakfast, make a cd, organize your ipod.

If you are really talented pop off a load while pinching a loaf-kill two birds with one stone.

TitusReachForTheStars said...

If speaking on the phone while pinching a loaf always be considerate of the person on the other line.

In my case I want them to hear my loaf so I will stop talking and actually put the phone by my ass so they can hear the music my hole makes. I also enjoy them hearing the splashes my loaves make.

Eva said...

As a long time HfH core volunteer (meaning I worked a regular crew, not just a particular house, for example with my church or employer), I need to point out that these houses are not free. The homeowners receive an interest free $65,000 home loan. They also put in 400 hours of "sweat equity" in their home and the homes of others. There is an extensive screening process to receive a HfH home and the homeowners that I have met have been incredibly hard-working, industrious and deserving.

Habitat is an excellent organization, although Jimmy Carter is generally regarded to be a real prat despite his support.

Maguro said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TitusReachForTheStars said...

I think this world will be a much better place when people treat loaves as are friends rather than our enemies.

It is one of the special things we all have in common-pinching a loaf. We should celebrate this connection and bond by more dialog around our loaves.

chuckR said...

Horace - these houses aren't free, there are mortgage payments to be made and hundreds of hours of sweat equity investment as well. But I expect there will be some owners who don't know that they need routine pest control inspections - if these places are wood, then termites are a bigger problem than cockroaches. And I expect there will be some who don't know that they need to dehumidify and ventilate to avoid mildew problems - or are financially stretched to the point they can't afford AC/dehumidification.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

Who knew a free lunch could give indigestion?

Christy said...

We don't have enough info to know. What is meant by wasteland? Is it a swamp? Still and all, it sounds like a lawyer's carefully crafted spin on the facts to me. Was it garbage? Or was it building debris the guy found under his kitchen? Building debris has been used as fill since ancient times. All houses settle during the first year or so, even those built upon firm foundations, and develop cracks. I know of a high dollar builder here in Maryland who comes back one year later to repair settling damage. Rotting door frames that let in ants and rats? Ants don't need rotting door frames to get into a house. Rats are sufficiently objectionable. Adding inconsequential ants to the description is just the sort of thing exaggerators do, isn't it? Makes me question the facts.

Ann Althouse said...

"I think this world will be a much better place when people treat loaves as are friends rather than our enemies."

Maybe we could treat them as our service animals and bring them to lunch.

TitusReachForTheStars said...

Something very profound that I have been quoted as saying,

"no one's loaf is better than anyone else's loaf".

Never forget that.

This could easily of been in the philosopher comment section as well.

Thank you.

EDH said...

They're here... ?

Speaking of Spielberg, isn't this a twist on the plot premise of Poltergeist, the one that summoned the "ghosts" to the TV "snow" in the first place?

Except that instead of greedy capitalist developers building a cookie-cutter McMansion development tract on top of a sacred burial ground, it's a bunch of do good liberals building on top of a landfill full of post-consumer throw away items.

I see boffo box office potential.

bearbee said...

Here is a NYT June 2007 article Habitat for Humanity’s Homes Faulted in Florida with a tad more detail on the land itself. Complaints began in about 2005

In the early 1990s the land held a blighted public housing complex, built on land that had been used, in isolated pockets, as a dump. After complaints by residents, the Environmental Protection Agency tested the soil for contamination. The E.P.A. concluded that the land was safe but noted that two buildings had been demolished because of soil settling, possibly caused by debris decomposing under the soil. A later soil test found elevated levels of arsenic, but the Florida Department of Health determined there was no significant health risk.

Isn't Florida particularly buggie and its climate humid requiring as suggested homeowner diligence?

Isn't new construction generally subject to cracks from settling?

The dream lady doesn't seem to help in establishing complaint credibility.

All the foreclosure and bailout talk has given this suit new impetus, I imagine.

EDH said...

My comment "Egad, don't give Titus any ideas!" about the "My Day, Yesterday" Flickr video project seems eerily prescient right about now.

It is an opportunity to really savior the loaf. Take your time. Relax. You don't need to be at work. Enjoy your Sunday loaf. Maybe even stay a little longer on the throne to finish that interesting article-even though the loaf is finished. Perhaps even take a call. Respond to some email messages on your blackberry.
Do some light dusting around the bathroom as you are pinching the loaf. Be creative. Use you time wisely and multi=task...

Cut your fingernails while pinching your loaf. Pluck your eyebrows while pinching your loaf. Apply a masque while pinching your loaf. Floss, brush teeth, apply deodorant, have breakfast, make a cd, organize your ipod.

If you are really talented pop off a load while pinching a loaf-kill two birds with one stone.

bearbee said...

Local paper June 2007 article Residents of HabiJax homes taking complaints to state with a couple of not too clear pictures.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Isn't Florida particularly buggie and its climate humid requiring as suggested homeowner diligence?

Yes. Basic home maintenance and ventilation would minimize mold, rot and mildew. Ants....good luck trying to keep them out of your house. Cockroaches are a result of decaying matter and unclean conditions and are almost impossible to keep out if your neighbors aren't vigilant as you are. Plus the climate in Florida is just conducive to those insects.

Isn't new construction generally subject to cracks from settling?

Yes again. We built our own house about 7 years ago and used the best materials and the utmost care in construction. After all, it was for ourselves. Within a few years there was some settling in one section of the house causing cracking in the drywall seams in the corners of a couple of rooms and the necessity to rehang a door that was no longer level. The concrete in the garage also developed a few cracks from ground frost heave and settling.

These people need to realize that they are responsible for themselves and that "shit happens" that isn't always anybody's particular fault. That houses degrade over time no matter what precautions you take. Live with it.

If they DID build on top of a garbage dump or known unstable land or use substandard materials then that IS a different story and the inhabitants do have a legitimate gripe.

Cedarford said...

Trial Lawyers assure that no good deed is free of risk of being punished.

Brownfields - ex industrial sites, garbage dumps - have long been "reclaimed" for new settlement. In fact, humans started out that way..the "Tells" of the ME are basically 4,000 year old accretion mounds of garbage, rubbish - many crested by villages inhabited by the same people who put the first stone or mudbrick down.

Far better we use those brownfields than spread our population out on, and permanently ruin - productive forests, arable land, vital ecosystems like coastal wetlands.

So some quasi-parasites are upset that their bargain house is built on old garbage dump, or a slight pollution problem exists if they ever take up farming in the 'Hood instead of drug deals and welfare? Awwwww! Poor dears!

The problem of cockroaches and rats is one that exists only in recently closed or still operating garbage dumps. After 7-10 years, the food supply has well composted away. And modern landfills that accept only clean fill and ash from trash to energy plants have no rat or cockroach problems.

On the other hand, rats&cockroaches&mildew exist wherever large populations of Underclass with poor sanitation and upkeep habits live. Black, white, Mexican....in PJs or Habitat for Humanity houses or now where 10-30 of them pack into a single house in the suburbs after "scattered housing" for the poor became politically popular

m00se said...

I think that titus just needs some stool softener.

Some other medications might also help...

Joe said...

A few years back, I laid sod for a set of six habitat for humanity homes. The homes were small (about 1000 square feet), but were well built and were in a nice neighborhood.

On the other hand, a few years before that an entire subdivision near where I lived at the time was condemned due to crumbling foundations--the builder had poured them in extremely cold weather. Ironically, just down the street another builder was framing houses, getting inspected and just before putting up the dry wall, pulling out every other stud.

(On the other hand, some of the nicest, best built homes I've ever seen were in a neighborhood between these two situations.)

mariner said...

Althouse, I think your selection from Malkin was misleading.

Immediately after the first paragraph you quoted is this:

"Probably a bit of both. A few of the houses seem to have been clearly uninhabitable. In 2005, the cracks in one foundation reportedly “became so severe that the house had to be lifted and settled on piers. Engineers hired by HabiJax found six feet of debris buried under the soil,” reports the NYT.

But was the entire project tainted?"

It seems pretty clear she believes some residents have cause to sue.

OTOH she also believes that some residents are responsible for their own problems, and that activists encouraged them to make inflated claims.

Palladian said...

"I think that titus just needs some stool softener.

Some other medications might also help..."

I suggest hemlock.

blogging cockroach said...

you know i like cockroach themed
posts but sorry i am a little late tonight
tommy had to sing in his snow delayed
xmas concert this evening
tommy is the boy whose computer i use
and anyway when he got back he had
to put the finishing touches on his
mystery novel which is what happens
when you get 12 year olds reading agatha
christie but speaking of mysteries
its really strange about all those h f h
house problems but i think
all the negative publicity
about cockroaches is unfair
the problem is building on top
of garbage dumps in a low rent
area where you get low rent cockroaches
who are attracted to that kind of thing
i mean have you ever met any of
those roaches from down south
they re just not our sort you know
how they cling to their
infestations and trash dumps
like typical brown cockroaches
and don t really appreciate
what jimmy carter has done for them
a better level of cockroach
would understand french cooking
such as i get around the house
here in cambridge mass near
harvard sq where mom is french
and a sloppy cook
and some of us know good sancerre
and won t drink just any cote du rhone
julia child would be proud
except for the sloppy cook part
or maybe she wouldn t mind
but i can eat macrobiotic too
if you happen to go to the
buddhist centre

many of us were hillary supporters
but when she lost we jumped right
on obama so to speak
you re never going to
get rid of all of us
so why not just exterminate those
palin loving cockroaches
and encourage those elite insects
who are your natural constituency
if you're a modern blue state
democratic politician unlike those
flyover country cockroaches
other than the ones from
new orleans who can fly
and have good politics too
except some go for jindal
because he's crazy as a bedbug
but they said that about
jimmy carter too which wasn t true
but maybe as a public christian
and habitat for humanity carpenter
he should ask how
if the foundations be destroyed
what can the righteous do

BlogDog said...

Habitat for Humidity?

amom#12 said...

Just for EVERYONE"S information, these homes ARE NOT FREE!!!! The homeowner not only puts in "sweat equity" hours on not only their own home, but the homes of others in the community. In addition, the homeowner has a FULL MORTAGE just like everyone else,they just do not have to pay interest!!! DO YOUR HOMEWORK PEOPLE!! My own home is a habitat home, and my foundation is heaving. After getting inspected by soil engineers, it was discovered that the soil was not prepared correctly before the floor was put in. I have been given a estimate to fix the repair correctly it will cost 70-90 thousand dollars. My original mortage was 89 thousand of which I stil owe 35. My home was only 8 years old when this happened. Not only was the foundation heaving, the shower "rained" into the basement through the floor, the doors are all offset,there was mold growing on the walls, inside and out, on several walls there are 1 inch cracks the entire length of the wall, etc, etc, etc. I am a single mom with a disabled child.Not only is this expensive to fix, but it is a health hazzard to my son. I cannot afford to do these repairs, and now have to disclose this information if I ever sell the home.While I am gratefull for the no-interest loan, I feel I am worse off now than before, certainly I am experiancing LOADS more stress. Any suggestions would be appreciated. The local office offered to put a "bandaid" on it, but tack the expense to the tail end of my existing mortage. They are NOT willing to take responsibility, nor are they willing to fix it correctly, and certainly they are not willing to shoulder the cost. I cannot afford 10,000 for a retainer for a attorney. Suggestions anyone?